Earlier in the year, the MCU introduced one of its newest heroes to audiences everywhere in “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.”
The film, based around the comics of the same title character that came out in the mid-70s, marketed heavily to film-goers that this was the MCU’s big first foray into the Asian American/Pacific Islander experience. The trailers leaned heavily on the new lead characters’ Asian background and kung fu moves and the stars of the movie talked often about how great it was now for AAPI kids to have a superhero that looked like them finally and understood their experiences in the press marketing circuit for the film.
As an AAPI myself, however, this irritated me more than anything and put me in such a mood that I wrote about how I was feeling before the film came out. I took issue with the framing of this marketing; boiling down the complex experiences of Asian American identity to being able to punch bad guys hard in a big-budget blockbuster funded by Disney and handled by the Pentagon. It felt cynical to me because it didn’t feel like an earnest attempt to tell one of our stories to general audiences such as I felt in films like “The Farewell,” “Gook,” or hell, even “Harold and Kumar.” It felt like Disney and Hollywood were cynically checking boxes to appeal to a demographic they found profitable without actually doing the work to understand our experiences. It felt dishonest, especially given the context of how our diaspora has been treated by the west and continues to be imperialized overseas.
And need I remind you all, no matter what Disney says, they are NOT an ally.
Now to be fair, I didn’t see the movie and it more than likely told a good enough story that resonated with young AAPIs everywhere, but it still needs to be said that the marketing around it was cynical and commodified our experiences for profit. It turned being AAPI into a buzzword to sell movie tickets and toys instead of the true complexities of our lives. It trivialized who we are for profit. This criticism is at the heart of at least one message in Lana Wachowski’s latest (and probably last) foray back into the world of “The Matrix,” which she co-directed alongside her sister Lilly between 1999 and 2004. In “Resurrections” Lana looks to set the record completely straight on her and her sister’s movies to show audiences exactly how she feels about the way her films have been commodified and reappropriated by Hollywood, the media, and right-wing chuds everywhere. That her transness, her views on politics, capitalism, and especially love, like my own life as an AAPI, are not buzzwords either. They have a deeper meaning. Meaning that she is worried about seeing misused.
The result can feel cynical, especially at the beginning of this epic fourth feature, but if you take the time to listen and open your heart to the criticism you’ll find that there is a lot of love in this film that she shows to the fans and a hope for a brighter future.
“Resurrections” sets its stage with Thomas Anderson a video game developer of a world-famous game called “The Matrix” (I know). He begins to feel however that there is something off about his world, that the world he created in the game wasn’t just serendipitous but something very real that happened to him. A reality he wants to return to that feels ever more apparent when he sees a woman named Tiffany who resembles the character Trinity in his game. When a man claiming to be Morpheus shows up in his office one day he starts to believe again and thus wakes up as before and remembers that he’s Neo. Now Neo must return to The Matrix and rescue Trinity to stop whatever plans the Machines have in store for him and the remaining human race.
If the harsher tone of this film could be summed up in a single exchange of words, it would be this series of tweets from apartheid billionaire ghoul Elon Musk and noted asshole herself Ivanka Trump with Lana’s sister Lilly.
Lilly, I imagine, shares her sister’s same disgust with the way the red pill has been weaponized by the internet’s worst people. Especially when the way it’s been weaponized tends to endanger trans women like herself across all spaces. As mentioned, early in the film it can feel like Lana is very angry and directing very strong criticism at the audience cause she is. The film gets so meta in fact it directly references itself in a way that I really wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy at first. Making The Matrix an actual game in this world is a strange choice but it somehow works in a moment in the film that I have seen (in my view at least) misinterpreted wildly across the internet.
We start our movie with Neo, who still believes he’s Thomas Anderson, as he becomes more and more disillusioned with his life. The video game company he works for wants him to make another “Matrix” game cause their parent company “Warner Bros” (heh) demands it which feels like it very much references how the actual studio fought the two sisters for years to make another, to the point they threatened to make one without them. The scene that follows features marketing team members throwing around words associated with “The Matrix” across the room in order to touch on what it is in order to sell it back again to audiences/gamers.
The nature of choice.
“Guns. Lots of guns.”
Meanwhile, Neo sits in his seat wordlessly nodding along as these corporate heads take what he poured his (in this case literal) life into and boil it down into commodifiable buzz words. The film isn’t saying these things aren’t what The Matrix is about, it’s saying that this story is more than just a series words meant to sell a product. It’s someone’s life. In the case of the film it’s Neo’s. He made that game cause it was more real to him than the real world, it was an actual experience cause it was and in the case of Lana her transness, her views on the world are more expansive than simply a checklist to sell a movie to an audience.
But the other element that is missed in this scene, is that not a single one of these characters mentions what is often forgotten about these movies and the center of the story itself; love. Love is the catalyst that revives Neo and turns him into The One in the first Matrix. Love is what propels Neo to make the “selfish” choice in “Reloaded” to end the cycle with the Machines and save and then revive Trinity. And in “Revolutions” love is what keeps multiple characters alive in the film’s climatic final act. It’s what leads them to fight like hell so they can see their better halves in the end and helps Neo reach the source because of Trinity to help end the war.
I don’t think Lana would disagree with you if you said “The Matrix” was about leftist politics and trans identity.” What she might take issue with is you saying that’s all it is.
“Resurrections” makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that these films are about feelings and namely love that propels people into action. It’s what changes people and helps them find their true self as how many things are more self-expressive on one’s true self than love? While there is plenty of cynicism, especially early on as Lana talks so directly with the audience you could almost feel her eyes on you, there is quite a deal of love directed toward the fans too in ways that even I wasn’t fully expecting.
At the heart of “Resurrections” is the feeling that Neo’s efforts, his fight to save humanity didn’t change anything. The human race is still enslaved, they still hide from the machines, and they are still fighting a guerilla war within The Matrix to free more minds. We see within the narrative that the Machines have evolved in other ways as well, they no longer need Agents to stop hackers in The Matrix and can now “swarm” them instead. Déjà vu glitches happen more often. And a new program known as The Analyst played by exquisitely by Neil Patrick Harris seems to hold an even firmer grasp on all of it than his predecessor The Architect. Neo is understandably jaded about all this not long after getting unplugged again.
It feels grim because it should. Because it reflects how the real world feels to a certain extent. For all the ways the original 1999 “Matrix” comments and tries to get audiences to understand anti-capitalism, trans identity, and breaking the shackles of servitude to authority, where are we currently in this moment in time? Still very far away from anything close to a new and better world. Lana and probably Lilly too must feel this, a feeling that a lot of writers and artists go through when trying to share radical messaging with their fans. Does it all matter? Has any of this actually made a difference?
In the film, Neo (as Thomas Anderson still) attempts suicide after receiving a Game of the Year award for his “Matrix” games probably for the same sense of disillusionment. For those who don’t know already, Lana too attempted suicide at one point in her life, nearly standing in front of an oncoming subway train not too long ago. But what stopped her was when a stranger looked in her direction as it was about to happen and didn’t look away. Something about this moment changed her life and propelled her to stay alive. It was perhaps that same sense of love for your fellow man as her film often talks about. In the film, Neo looks down as he’s about to jump and see’s one of the new characters Bugs, before they liberated themselves (I use they btw because they are quite clearly non-binary to me) and unbeknownst to him ends up saving their life as well as they become inspired by his presence in the same way that man did for Lana. By simply being seen.
Characters like Bugs and their crew make it very apparent to Neo that yes, they took his story and turned it into something it’s not but they also make a point of telling Neo that what his story also did was inspire plenty of people to keep going, and to keep fighting. It saved them. These characters are very likely stand-ins for the fans here, as many of these characters go as far as to call themselves as such. The tone switches here from that early cynicism to endearment as Lana clearly does actually care about the fans here, specifically the ones who understand her. Bugs is a fine addition to the Matrix story and a worthy avatar for the fans and Jessica Henwick does a great job of not only delivering some of the film’s best lines but also just being ridiculously cool as this badass non-binary freedom fighter. This character does a great job of selling the film’s more hopeful notes and helping viewers understand how Lana really feels about her story in relation to the fans.
“The Matrix” series more than likely has saved a few lives, gotten people to look at the world differently, helped more than a few come out of the closet, and perhaps even radicalized them in some form or another. Through these characters, with Bugs and her crew, Lana shows that while the world hasn’t become some type of utopia yet, it’s getting better just by the way stories like hers have moved others. Speaking for myself I can safely say that all these films have shown me something of worth in some way be it conversations around gender and identity, leftist anti-capitalism, or just sheer ballsy filmmaking that though at times can be muddled and even clunky still inspire me to this day.
“Resurrections” is a very personal film because of this and anecdotes relating to Lana’s (and probably Lilly’s too) life are littered throughout the script. Your enjoyment of the film thus hinges on how much you care to listen to that or even understand it but as Lana demonstrates in the early parts of the film, she cares more about being heard here than whether or not you or I get it.
The film isn’t without some weak spots, of course. While I think the meta-commentary is part of what makes a film like this great, its early heavy-handedness can feel a bit too preachy at times and at worst irritating. It could definitely be edited down a bit from its two-and-a-half-hour runtime too. While I didn’t mind the return of Morpheus in AI form, I felt Lana could’ve chosen a brand-new character for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II to inhabit (he’s still solid here though). Direct callbacks to actual scenes from the previous films feel more often unnecessary than good stylistic choices as well. While visually I think the film’s cinematography is breathtaking (I can only speak for the big screen here btw, for those who have only seen it on HBO Max) it feels VERY different from the original as Bill Pope, who helped create the trilogy’s iconic bullet-time shots, did not return for this film. And perhaps most noticeably the absence of famed fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping is felt immensely in the film’s fight scenes which feel slow and stilted by a large margin in comparison.
But the film makes up for this in many other ways. Again, visually the film really pops on the big screen and should be seen there if given the chance. Neil Patrick Harris is solid as the new villain in The Analyst and is a good stand-in for chuds and maybe crypto bros everywhere. The world of The Matrix expands in various new interesting ways such as a new city in Io, and AI who have joined sides with the humans in their war against the Machines (somewhat referencing the “Animatrix” for the uber-fans out there). And hell, even though I think the return of Smith was also unnecessary Jonathan Graff is pretty good as a new version of this character and even gets you to rethink his relationship with Neo in the previous films in an unexpected way to say the least.
But what about the love story at the center? I’ve meandered so long on the meta-commentary I haven’t really mentioned the Matrix saga’s principal love story; Neo and Trinity.
Well, how sold you are on their chemistry and how much you care about these two as a couple across the first three films will also influence how much you may or may not enjoy this movie. Simply put it’s the central pull (again) of this film and its front and center in the best way. We again feel Neo’s salvation and return to his true self, his true identity is tied to the love of Trinity. But here we also feel Trinity’s own path back to self-discovery is also tied to Neo and it’s hard not to root for that throughout the film. It all leads to a climactic (albeit over the top and sometimes clunky) finale and a cathartic ending that mirrors that of the original. Though Carrie-Anne Moss isn’t given a ton of lines, she delivers when it counts and we are reminded again of how fucking cool she was as this character so long ago.
“Resurrections” is, again, not without issues and clearly not made for everyone (and frankly, that’s on purpose) but if you open yourself up to its possibilities and views, you’ll find a story that isn’t nearly as cynical as it might purport to be early in its first act. It’s a film that recaptures “The Matrix’s” themes, messages, story beats, and more than anything its identity to the point that it’s kind of impossible for those same “red-pilled” chuds to see it their way.
It very much feels like Lana got to writing and said “Try ‘red-pilling’ this, assholes” and it’s kind of awesome and beautiful in that way.
“Resurrections” is fairly divisive across the internet right now and understandably so. It’s both a very similar and hugely different film compared to the trilogy. If you go in expecting it to be just another exercise in bullet-time action you’ll probably be disappointed. If you go in already peeved at the idea of meta-textual story-telling you will definitely not enjoy this either. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have legit issues with it beyond that, not related to “nEw cHaRacTer hAs bLuE hAiR! iT mAke My pEePeE hOrt!” and frankly it’ll come down to a big Rorschach test for many either way. But for this longtime fan, and deep appreciator of Lana and Lilly Wachowski as both artists and people, the film if anything exceeded my expectations and if this really ends up being the finale due to poor box office receipts it’ll be disappointing but also fitting given the nature of this film’s message.
“The Matrix” will likely remain my favorite movie for the rest of my life but “Resurrections” is not super far behind in my opinion as it continues its legacy of exploring the empowering nature of discovering your identity while reminding you that love is often what seeds it.
Thanks again, Lana (and Lilly) for reminding me anything is possible.
4 out of 5